Do you refer to your workouts as “Leg Day”, “Arm Day” or “Chest Day”? If so you are probably following a body building style hypertrophy split. I’ve done them in the past too. If you open up a muscle magazine or go to bodybuilding.com they will be the featured workouts. They can be effective, especially if hypertrophy (growing bigger muscles) is your main goal. I know there are many cops that are semi professional bodybuilders and have great success with these style programs. However I don’t think they are the best training options for the majority of officers – especially those not involved in the body building scene. Law Enforcement Officers are tactical athletes and we should train like athletes. I have previously discussed the Importance of Strength Training in Law Enforcement and that Compound Lifts are key to developing functional strength. A great way to promote strength training and focus on compound lifts is by training the entire body every time you lift.
The Benefits of Full Body Training
Law Enforcement Specific Benefits
Training the entire body every time you hit the gym has many benefits specific to law enforcement. When you apply strength on the job you do so using your full body. Jumping out of the cruiser, sprinting after a suspect, tackling the suspect, and restraining the suspect requires using all of your major muscle groups in unison. You will never have a “Leg Day” or “Arm Day” on the job where you just use one body part. You will always be required to use your full body. Training your entire body at once is an excellent way to prepare for the physical demands of the job. Muscle Memory comes from repeating the same movement patterns often. Following a full body training program will help your body adapt to using multiple major muscle groups at once and you will be better prepared to apply full body strength on the job.
Full Body Training is Efficient
Following a full body training program is more efficient than following a body part split program for multiple reasons.
- Less Training Sessions Per Week: Most full body training programs have 3 or 4 training sessions per week. Body part splits on the other hand have 4, 5 or even 6 sessions per week. More days off leaves you with more free time.
- More Flexibility in Training Schedule: Total body training programs provide more flexibility with how you schedule your training. Many full body training programs require 3 sessions per week with at least 1 day in between sessions. A typical schedule is Monday, Wednesday, Friday. However as long as you keep 1 day in between sessions you can rotate those training days to fit your schedule. Monday, Thursday, Saturday; Sunday, Tuesday, Friday etc all work well so you can plan your training around your off days. If you have to miss a training session because of court, O.T. or family obligations you can reschedule the training day for tomorrow with relative ease.
- Emphasis on Intensity and Frequency over Volume: The three main variables in strength training are frequency (how often you lift), intensity (how heavy you lift) and volume (how many sets/reps you lift). Full body training programs tend to focus on intensity with heavy sets of 5 or less reps and frequency with multiple training sessions per week. Splits tend to focus on volume with many sets of 8-12 reps per exercise. Intensity and frequency are the ideal focus for developing maximum strength. An added bonus for Law Enforcement is that focusing on Intensity and Frequency will result in less Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (D.O.M.S.) than following a volume based body part split program. If you have ever followed a hypertrophy split, you know just how miserable you feel on-duty a day or two after “Leg Day”. That’s D.O.M.S. making running or even walking unbearable. Full body training will minimize or even eliminate D.O.M.S. making you more effective on duty.
Full Body Training Programs
- 5×5 StrongLifts or Reg Park’s: 5×5 programs are very effective beginner full body strength training programs. They are based around 3 training sessions each week with 5 sets of 5 reps of the major lifts. They work very well for people new to strength training as a way to learn the lifts and develop strength. The training sessions will get long as the weight goes up and more rest time is needed between the 5 sets but many experts view them as the perfect blend of intensity, volume, and frequency.
- 3×5 Starting Strength or Swole: 3×5 programs are very similar to 5x5s in their design. The key difference is that they focus on only 3 sets of 5 reps. This makes the length of the training sessions more manageable once the weight gets heavy.
- Premeditated Fitness Recommendation: I find the best place for beginners to start is with a 5×5 and then progress to a 3×5 once the lifter can barbell back squat his bodyweight for 5×5.
- The Texas Method: Is the natural progression for intermediate lifters once a 3×5 starts stalling. The program has 3 training sessions per week; a volume day, a recovery day, and an intensity day. The volume day is long and brutal but sets the lifter up to set new PRs on the intensity day. It is a physically demanding program that gets results. On the plus side the recovery day is a short training session and the intensity day is of medium length. The downside is that the volume day is a very long day in the gym and due to how the volume day affects the intensity day, there is not a lot of flexibility in the scheduling of this program.
- Wendler’s 5/3/1: This program is typically not a full body day. The 4 main lifts are broken up into 4 training sessions throughout the week. However officers can adapt this program to twice a week when they are pressed for time. A Squat/Over head Press day and a Bench/Deadlift day will get solid results and allow you to only train twice a week for those times when life gets busy.
- Dan John’s Easy Strength: Dan John has developed a program where lifters hit all the major lifts every time they are in the gym. The majority of the training sessions are “Easy” sessions that require only 2×5 of what would normally be a warm-up weight. The program is demanding in that it requires 5 trips to the gym each week. However 7 out of every 10 sessions are the lighter “Easy” sessions that can be completed in 30-40 minutes. This program also requires the lifter to be experienced as they are programming the weight for each lift based off of how they feel. It is an effective and fun program. This program is ideal if you have a home gym or access to a quality on-site departmental gym.
- Premeditated Fitness Recommendation: This all comes down to how often you can get to the gym and for how long. If you can afford 1 really long gym session each week, do the Texas Method. If you can only get to the gym twice a week, 5/3/1 will keep you seeing results. If you can get to the gym almost daily for short bursts of work, Easy Strength is the answer. Cycle the programs based off of your results and your time constraints. Just make sure you stick with a program for a minimum of 8 weeks before switching to a new program.
The Secret Sauce
The one thing missing in some of the above programs is Loaded Carries. Doing loaded carries on a regular basis will ramp up the results of any full body training program. I recommend adding them in at the end of every training session. They will help increase strength in all the lifts. More importantly, the core strength, lateral stability, and grip strength they develop are invaluable in Law Enforcement work.